Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Good Eats in the City of Brotherly Love

When I think of the culinary landscape in Philadelphia, two restauranteurs come to mind: Stephen Starr and Jose Garces. Starr is known for heavy hitters such as Buddakan and Morimoto, which started in Philadelphia and eventually made it to NYC. Starr has over a dozen Philadelphia restaurants including The Continental, Parc, El Rey, and Barclay Prime to name a few. Although Starr has more restaurants, the people of Philadelphia love Jose Garces. Iron Chef Garces, unlike Starr, is a chef-restauranteur that has gained a favorable reputation do to his culinary expertise. Jose Garces started Amada in 2005 and won a James Beard award in 2009 for "Best Chef-Mid Atlantic" which only helped his already popular reputation. Garces went on to open other restaurants around Philly including Tinto, Distrito, Chifa, JG Domestic, and Village Whiskey. When visiting Philadelphia last week, I was fortunate enough to go to Amada and Village Whiskey.


Amada had energy, even at the earlier part of service. We were shooting for a later dinner, but our impromptu visit only allowed us for a six o'clock reservation. W were brought to the back dining room, a room that seemed to be a bit more intimate than the dining room that we passed by. The front dining room probably plays off the energy of the bar and is therefore a bit more lively. Although the back room wasn't as loud, it still possessed this great energy. The decor of Amada was great--it added to the casual yet refined atmosphere. Polished wood tables and dark fixtures gave the room a sexy feel. We started with a pitcher of white sangria-- a light mixture of crisp white wine, apple, pear, and orange.

The service at Amada was on point and only added to the experience. Our lady server knew when to be attentive and when to disappear and allow us to enjoy our food. The food was all good--there was nothing I didn't like. Sure we had some dishes that weren't good as others, but every dish was full of great flavor and cooked beautifully. The menu was a bit confusing to look at. Garces built Amada around the idea of Tapas, which seemed to be a popular trend a few years ago. Though the trend has died down, Amada has earned its spot as one of Philly's top spots. I like the idea of small plates, because this allows me to try many dishes. After reading the menu a few times, we finally decided to pick three plates each. Among my favorite were the oysters with the strawberry escabeche and cava granita, the short rib flatbread, and the octopus special that they had that evening. I don't remember the components to the dish; but the charred octopus was delightful. Lamb meatballs with shaved manchego and the wagyu sirloin with a prune-bacon stew & sheep's cheese espuma were also packed with great flavor. Goat cheese, basil, and almonds were the main components of another dish that everyone at the table seemed to enjoy. We also enjoyed crab stuffed peppers, The garlic shrimp that we had were good, but I think its a dish that is easily replicated so I wasn't too impressed. Our server recommended the Revuelto, a combination of shrimp and wild mushrooms stirred eggs, which seemed to be everyone least favorite dish. Overall, the food was good--there wasn't a dish that we didn't finish.

Another plus about Amada is how you get your food. The kitchen brings out plates as they're ready so dishes that are ready fast aren't held up by other food. I felt like we got our first plates just minutes after we ordered. I also loved the fact that they gave us a little break halfway through our meal. At this time, they cleared our plates and replaced them with clean settings. This was a little gesture that went a long way with my sisters and I. We definitely appreciated the couple minutes and were please to have fresh silverware and plates. All in all, Amada was a hit. Now I now why a handful of people recommended this place when I asked for good restaurants in Philadelphia. So pick up your glass of sangria and cheers to Iron Chef Garces on a job well done.

Village Whiskey

whiskey village indoor 2 300x206 Village Whiskey: A Downtown Philadelphia Takeover

I was kind of surprised on how small the space was. A hostess standing at a whiskey barrel greeted us upon Garces' first non-latin endeavor. She took us to a bar table that seemed squished in between two other tables. We decided to sit at the bar where a ninja-looking fella was stirring an old fashioned. After bouncing around between helping a guest and making a drink for the service bar, he greeted us with two menus: a tall skinny menu was for their whiskey selections while the other menu was for food. The whiskey menu was pretty impressive, but I guess you have to expect over 80+ whiskeys when your name is Village Whiskey. The food menu was filled of mouth-watering options; but village whiskey is known best for the burger. I got the Whiskey King burger, an 8oz angus patty topped with maple-bourbon glazed cipollini, applewood bacon, rogue bleu cheese, and foie gras. I opted to switch the rogue bleu cheese for their Jasper Hill Cheddar. This burger was massive and messy at that. Good thing I was with my sisters because I must have had burger juices all over my face while eating this thing. It was such a massive burger that it was hard to get a bite with everything; but when you did it was glorious. The ingredients on this burger all sang in harmony especially after being washed down with a delicious brown ale draught. If not in the mood for beer, the car bomb milkshake was awesome. It was a little thick for my liking but the flavors were on point.

Kim and Jen split the veggie burger, which they seemed to enjoy. We also got an order of the duck fat fries; which were good; but definitely over-hyped. The cheddar sauce that accompanied the fries could have been more cheesy and less watery. Jose Garces hits another home run with Village Whiskey, showing Philly that he has more to offer than Latin flare. Village Whiskey combines some of my favorite things (beer/whiskey/burgers) so its a safe bet to say I will be back there next time I visit my sister.

Other must-go to destinations in Philadelphia are Reading Terminal Market where you will find DiNic's and Delilah's. Skip a cheesesteak and head to DiNic's for an Italian pulled pork sandwich. I topped my sandwich with hot peppers which gave the mouth-watering sandwich a bit of a kick. DiNic's is a must have! Delilah's on the other hand was a bit of a let-down. Kim told me Delilah's was on a "Throw Down" with Bobby Flay for their mac n' cheese. Even Oprah declared Delilah's the best mac n' cheese in the country, so I was thinking it had to be good. Everyone in my family loves mac n' cheese, so we usually always try it if its on the menu. Unfortunately, I was impressed by Delilah's mac n' cheese. Maybe it was an old batch, but it lacked creaminess. I wouldn't even consider that to be in my top 20.

For dessert, head to Franklin Fountain on Market Street for homemade ice cream. This retro ice cream shop immediately transports you back in time; but not in a gimmicky way. The decor was authentic opposed to hokey and the staff played their part not only with their uniform, but with their attitude. One scoop maple-walnut and one scoop vanilla was topped with a homemade peanut butter sauce and salted pretzel pieces for one awesome sundae. Franklin Fountain is another must if visiting Philly.

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